This article is part of a larger reflexion on the history and political construction of care in Europe in the European COST-Funded program « Who care in Europe? ».
For many years I have studied welfare policies and social conditions in the UK from the late nineteenth century to the present. I have become increasingly concerned about the decline of the welfare state and the sharp rise in poverty since the 1980s and especially since 2010, as discussed in my recent book Divided Kingdom. A History of Britain, 1900 to the Present. I am not alone in being even more alarmed by the further increase in poverty due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its precise extent and the ultimate impact are not yet clear because the pandemic continues, but here I will briefly discuss what we know about the social, economic and political impact of the pandemic in the UK to the present (February 2021).
The Impacts of Lockdown
The UK economy has never in modern history shut down so extensively for so long. The first “lockdown” covering the whole UK from March-June 2020 caused high unemployment especially among the lowest-paid, increasing poverty, use of food banks and homelessness. Nor have schools previously closed for so long, disadvantaging the education of children from deprived backgrounds especially seriously, followed by further disruptions after schools and universities temporarily reopened and COVID-19 spiked again, infecting teachers and students. Further lockdowns, including in Wales for two weeks in October-November 2020 and in England and Scotland through November, were limited to countries or regions of the UK and were slightly less wholesale, but still had serious social and economic effects. We are currently, since January 5th, in a third lockdown (including closure of schools) which is total in England for an uncertain length of time, with some variations in location and timing in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Professor Emerita, University of London; Visiting Professor in History, Birkbeck College London